The Indian government seems to be waking up from its long slumber on a key security issue. The ruling United Progressive Alliance looks like it is finally moving to ban ammonium nitrate, a readily available bomb-making ingredient that terrorists have been using for at least a dozen years. The Home Affairs Ministry has launched an inter-ministerial consultation process aimed at banning the open sale of a chemical that is increasingly being used by homegrown terror outfits, and which was the main explosive ingredient used to detonate the three bombs in Mumbai last week that claimed at least 21 lives and injured dozens more.
The ministry has prepared a list of bomb blasts in which the substance has been used, and circulated it to the law and justice ministry and the industrial production department for their comments and suggestions on how to curb its use in terror acts.
The first known case of ammonium nitrate being used by terrorists is believed to have been back in Delhi, in 1997-98, when the capital was rocked by a series of bomb blasts. Since then, dozens of bombs have been triggered by terrorists using the substance in cities including Jaipur, Ahmedabad and Varanasi.
It’s certainly been worrying that the government has done precious little so far to prevent the misuse of ammonium nitrate, which is commonly used in the agricultural sector. But the UPA leadership is now looking to bring a law that would ban the open sale of the substance, placing its sale under the Explosives Act so that it can be properly regulated. The Mumbai attacks appear to have prompted the government to fast track the change, and it’s said to be keen to bring a bill in the monsoon session of the parliament, which begins at the start of August.
Ammonium nitrate has suited terrorists well as it is both cheap and harder to track down than more destructive alternatives. RDX has been used by terrorists to cause immense destruction, including in March 1993, when serial blasts in Mumbai claimed more than 250 lives and injured hundreds more. But RDX is produced only in ordnance factories, and so its use has tended to mean the finger of blame has pointed to Pakistan. Ammonium nitrate, in contrast, is more readily and raises far less suspicion.